Archive for May, 2008

They played politics! The shame of it all.

May 31, 2008

Colin Espiner reports in the Press that the 4th Labour Government conspired to “render a Peters-Richardson combination impossible” and to “destroy Peters”. Shock, horror!

But wait a minute, this is almost twenty years old, this story. People born in 1989 are graduating university now. So, there’s got to be something to this, you’d think. Well, you’d be wrong. But this breathlessly retailed piece of fluff does tell us some interesting things about the world, nonetheless.

[Hat-tip to Inventory2@ http://keepingstock.blogspot.com/%5D (more…)

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Filling in for DPF

May 30, 2008

Since DPF has taken off for a few days of sun on Great Barrier Is — the local greens are said to be arming themselves in readiness, but just with water pistols, you understand — the squad of giddy right-wing toadies collectively known as the ‘kiwiblog right’ must at bit of a loss. So, not wanting to see lesser species suffer unduly, I have undertaken to provide some of the masterful ‘cut-and-paste’ commentary for which KB is noted.

Here goes…

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A breath of fresh air

May 30, 2008

New figures from two separate surveys showing smoking among adults at a “record low”, and a downturn in youth smoking, are to be applauded.

According to the Herald report, “smoking kills about 5000 people a year, including nearly 400 deaths attributed to secondhand smoke.” Then there’s the often delibiltating disease. And as The Standard notes, these drops are good news for our quality of life (as any Galbraiths regular can tell you) and productivity too.

Helen Clark has championed many of the legal initiatives that have led to this result. She deserves plaudits, and lots of them.

Former principal medical officer in the Dept of Health, Dr Murray Laugensen, thinks that a likely cause is that “the psychological effect of the smokefree workplaces legislation, which came into effect at the end of 2004, has brought about a change in public attitudes to smoking.”

Of course, such initiatives proved too easy a target for political opponents trading in the rhetoric of the “nanny state” and other right-wing shibboleths, and they denounced such initiatives as infringing important freedoms.

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Give them a break

May 29, 2008

A couple of years ago my brother rang up, asking indignantly whether or not workers are entitled to tea breaks. His partner worked (standing) in a food bar in a large shopping mall and had been told she didn’t work hard enough to justify a break between starting work at 6am and a very short lunch break around 1pm.

It comes as a shock for many to learn that NZers are not entitled to breaks at work (except for pilots, truckies, and the like). Since the Employment Contracts Act 1991 swept away awards, breaks must be negotiated.

Remember Bill Birch’s assurances at the time that such conditions were “protected”? This was never going to be the case for the most vulnerable workers — cleaners, hospitality workers, petrol station attendants, etc — and so these conditions were lost.

Surprisingly, the Labour-led governments have not sought to restore tea breaks until this year. There was a view in 1999 that the new Employment Relations Act would fix these problems.

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The wrong message

May 29, 2008

Audrey Young blogs on the Housing NZ’s executive conference today, making some good points.

First, she had the same response that I did on hearing National MPs speaking up for the poor and the homeless. Incredulity.

As she notes, Heatley and Collins weren’t there when the Nats were bleeding the poor and making them homeless, all in the name of Bolger’s “Decent Society”. But hands up anyone who thinks that the Nats will give two figs for the poor should they win the election? Thought so.

Young also provides a useful balance to some of the attempts to beat this story senseless, redeeming herself for last week’s OTT response to Goff’s admission that Labour could possibly lose the election.

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Garth George’s good old days

May 29, 2008

This morning, news of another acquittal in a high-profile murder case. That’s the second in a week. These acquittals are coming faster than petrol price rises. And this one was criticised as “shoddy” and “selective” by the defence counsel, a QC no less.

No, this blog is not about bashing the cops. They’re not perfect, but they do a difficult job. It’s about NZ’s silliest columnist, Garth George, and his fantasy world.

Normally, I can’t be bothered reading George’s fusty old right-wing tripe. (The fact that he was a judge in this year’s Qantas Media Awards explains a lot.) But today, having already mused on this latest acquittal, I was drawn to his views on the problems with today’s constabulary.

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Welcome back Prog Blog

May 28, 2008

Prog Blog is back. In their own words:

“Right, there must be an election due soon, so Prog Blog is getting cranked up again. I mean you would have to wouldn’t you?”

Searching questions combined with biting wit. The Progressives punch well above their weight, blog-wise. Welcome back!

[Hat tip to norightturn]

University funding: yawning chasm of credibility?

May 27, 2008

Remember the Knowledge Wave? The Government’s Growth and Innovation Strategy? We’re all agreed that, in the face of intensifying global competition, NZ needs to up its productivity and its innovation. This imperative underlies the “trans-Tasman income gap” and “OECD league table” debates.

The Labour-led governments of the last 8 1/2 years grasped this early on and made concerted efforts to improve our performance in these areas. That the results have been modest can be put down to a number of factors, including bureaucracy. Too many bureaucrats producing too many glossy reports, e.g. here. Last week’s Budget shows that the Government itself must take some share of the blame.

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Protecting vulnerable workers: still work to do

May 25, 2008

Overshadowed by the Budget, the Minimum Wage and Remuneration Amendment Bill passed its second reading last week. I missed it amongst the Budget excitment, but Stargazer picked it up. It’s important.

The Bill provides minimum wage rights to workers employed as independent or dependent contractors. (The latter depend on their employer for work, as many truck drivers do, for example.) These workers are not covered by most of the laws that give employed workers rights to paid holidays, paid parental leave, wages protection, personal grievances and so on. The Health & Safety in Employment Act is a rare exception.

This is not a problem for those workers who are truly in business in their own right. IT specialists, graphic artists and the like. They tend to have sought-after skills and can look after themselves. They choose to work as contractors for the flexibility, freedom from dopey bosses, etc.

It is a problem where the legal distinction is used as a loophole by unscrupulous employers to avoid their obligations to their employees. Too often the contractual relationship is a facade for exploitation.

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Corporate responsibility: bananas!

May 24, 2008

The NZ Herald yesterday carried Johann Hari’s comment piece from the Independent that gives the lie to the false maxim of the far-right that corporations only ever act in their own long-term interests and are therefore always to be trusted to do the right thing — say, with infrastructure, or GM science.

The answer to that bit of right-wing dogma is simple: bananas!

For those who haven’t caught up with what’s happening, the banana that we eat (i.e. the Cavendish) is a dying breed. That’s because the same multi-national that created the banana as we know it was so focused on the short-term maximisation of its shareholders’ returns that it couldn’t learn from its own mistakes.

As Johann Hari puts it:

Is there a parable for our times in this odd milkshake of banana, blood and fungus? For a hundred years, a handful of corporations were given a gorgeous fruit, set free from regulation, and allowed to do what they wanted with it. What happened? They had one good entrepreneurial idea – and to squeeze every tiny drop of profit from it, they destroyed democracies, burned down rainforests, and ended up killing the fruit itself.

But have we learned? Across the world, politicians like George Bush and David Cameron are telling us the regulation of corporations is “a menace” to be “rolled back”; they even say we should leave the planet’s climate in their hands. Now that’s bananas.”

Read the article and then buy Dan Koeppel’s brilliant book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.

[Footnote: the brilliant comedian Redbaiter has described Johann Hari as “extreme leftist Johann Hari (of all the most loathsome people)”. In fact, Hari is a “European social democrat”, who believes that markets are “an essential tool to generate wealth” but must be matched by strong democratic governments and strong trade unions (wikipedia), a republican, atheist, prison reformer, etc. A man after my own heart (politically).]